Saturday, July 30, 2016

Where have we been?!?!?!

Yes, blogging land, it has been a while. There's been a lot of transition for us in our little homestead, and nearly a year ago, we returned to the suburban life for the current time. Have we given up on our dreams of wide open spaces and green acres?  Certainly not. Is homesteading still something we love or would love to do? Definitely. Here's the thing. Homesteading is what you make and how you define it.  If you expect me to be a purist, you are far from mistaken about me.  My life is far from purist.  Bits and pieces of life are combined into a recipe that is of my own making and best suited to my own life priorities and goals. Do things sometimes get a bit mis-mashed and messy?  Yes.  But it is always worth re-tweaking and making something unique, beautiful, delicious. It's all in your priorities and goals.
Pink Yarrow
Yarrow, pretty landscape addition and pollinator plant
 For me, having a manageable sized garden and quantity of produce is high.  Along with short commutes. And less stress.  And possible early retirement.  And extra time with my kids.  And a beautiful home garden. And about a thousand other reasons that I could share over a cup of coffee. Are we still really homesteading, though, you ask? You bet.  We're apiarists, cooks, preservers, gardeners, and poultry fanciers, all on 1/4 an acre. This year, we've... 
  • given bees another go. After a late-winter starve-out last year, our country hive perished.  Here in the suburbs they're going like gangbusters!
  • planted blueberries, strawberries, blackberries, and hardy kiwi--we're staying a while and it's worth the time investment.
  • kept our staple crops of sweet potatoes, potatoes, and peppers, and they've gotten a great start.
  • been able to actually plan and accomplish a real fall garden, since I've not been as overwhelmed.
  • learned a TON about gardening in the semi-shade, as it predominates our yard (a few problem trees are coming out this winter!)
  • augmented our garden beauty, with a mind for the bees--black-eyed-Susan's, yarrow, purple coneflower, liatris, hostas, lavender, campanula, sage, oregano, roses, bergamot, sedum, lamb's ears, lemon balm, comfrey, chives, and salvia are all new to my little home--and it is good for a gardener's apiary-loving soul.  Borage, poppy, crocus, thyme, and others are on the to-add list.
  • added Aracuanas to our flock of chickens and a few fresh blue eggs are already rewarding our efforts.
  • learned so much about permaculture and urban farming.  They prioritize using your current space and making the most of it. For this point in my full-time-work life, a maximally managed 1/4 acre lot is about all that I can handle well.
Painting Hives
Sugar water syrup keeps our bees busy while they await their new home
Did we do some pruning compared to the old homestead? Definitely, but it's been a good time to remember to minimalize my homesteading and choose quality over quantity.  I'm keeping busy by honing my other homesteading skills. 
  • We no longer have dairy goats...and I learned some key things about choosing animals and genetics and historical husbandry of said animals in order to actually get the production and husbandry methods I'm envisioning.  They are definitely on my future dream list, but for now, I'm excluded from owning any for several reasons.
  • We no longer have pasture pigs...but we learned all we'd need to do them again heavily in the future, including an awesome small-farmer feeder, and the amount of headache that a lack of procrastination saves all homesteading endeavors *cough* castration *cough* (common sense, I know!).
  • We no longer have a giant garden...but a short commute comes with that--which is better for a smaller, more intensively-managed, less-stressful, more beautiful, productive garden.
Bee Entrance
Bees making good use of their lower entrance...note the spilled pollen.
Do I still have plans and goals?  Definitely.
  • Two or three old trees need downed and recycled into terraces and mulch.
  • Said trimmings will allow us to terrace and heavily mulch our chicken run area, adding to their bug-foraging, keeping their run mud free, and increasing the beauty of the space.
  • I'd like to add another terrace or two of berries (red raspberries, and some honey berries are on my wish list!)...and another terrace or two for vegetables. These terraces would allow me to nearly double my cultivated area.
  • Rabbits are still on my radar and would definitely work out nicely in the city.  Dan mows for two other yards plus our own.  There is plenty of grass hay to be harvested for fall and winter and there are plenty of trimmings and weeds from our own yard during the growing season.
  • An asparagus bed would be a great addition for the back of a deep border turned vegetable garden.  Lasagna layering that bed this fall should allow for a good home next spring.
  • I'd love to expand the apiary to a final of 3-4 hives. Currently we have one.  Splits vs. new packages are on the horizon!
So, despite the silence, we've been busy and blooming where we're planted for now. :) 
Hydrangea Dew
Recent rains on my hydrangeas
 

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

Taming the Consumerism Beast: My Minimalist Christmas


As we enter the holiday season, I have consciously been trying to be more mindful of the choices that I'm making and the example I'm setting.  Unfortunately, the holiday season has become part and parcel with excess--excess food, excess buying, excess debt, excess stress.

I want to do better.

The past year or two, I've been gradually shifting towards simplification and minimizing my life.  My schedule has been too busy, my home too cluttered, and my life just too stressed. And if we're honest, the holidays are no exception. We are consumer-minded, we don't budget for generosity, and we are wildly selfish, but carefully disguise this as generosity to our already well-provided for families, friends, and children (global perspective, people). 

I want to teach my children better.  And the only way I can accomplish this is to lead by example.

I want my children to learn that Thanksgiving is a time for gratitude, not over-indulgence. 

I want my kids to remember that Christmas is where we celebrate the Ultimate Sacrifice and where we receive a Gift that is ultimately precious, worth far beyond rubies, and does not wear out, break, or get lost. 

I want them to spend their time and money with an eternal focus--and that only comes by emphasizing, protecting, and nurturing that what has an eternal soul: people. 

None of that is buy-able.  No sale, shopping trip, or checking account can purchase this.  And a childhood with a tree full of presents but a character devoid of altruism and generosity, but full of selfishness and materialism, is a poor one indeed.

I challenge you:  this holiday season, be counter-cultural--and raise counter-cultural kids.

As I've been learning, a key component to minimalism is clearing away distractions and choosing less, so that the important can become more.

If we're honest with ourselves, the holidays have morphed into this time of chaos with little left to allow for introspection, thankfulness, and reflection on what really matters.  I have found myself so overwhelmed with cooking, cleaning, shopping, traveling, parties and all the trimmings of Christmas that I miss the whole point of the holiday itself.

If I am a slave to the clock, my pocket-book, or my or my kids' wish lists, I will never create enough space in my schedule to find peace, quiet, and still to refocus the holidays on what they are all about; I will never create enough margin in my finances to teach generosity and giving.

Am I perfect? Certainly not.  Am I still learning and figuring this out?  You betcha.  Am I a work in progress and trying to cut the excess?  Getting there.

I have been striving to be intentional--and I think it's working.  It is the day before Thanksgiving.  Presents are all bought and figured out. And I'm actually finishing off a RETURN because I decided that we didn't need an extra present. I am exciting about where I am this year and the breathing room that I am finally feeling and I want to share some tips.... I'll check back after the holidays are over and give you all an update on what worked, what didn't and tweaks for next year. 

It takes time to learn to be counter-cultural.  Give yourself grace.

Tips for Taking the Hectic Out of the Holidays

#1: Set a budget for all things finite.  

The big ones us are FINANCIAL and TIME.   I can't get every last new trapping and I can't attend every party, or cook a 27-course meal. 
  • Set a budget for each person and stick with it. 
  • Set expectations for how many functions you're going to and say no to the rest. 
  • Decide just how many sides you're going to cook for one meal and let the rest be.

#2: To make gifts meaningful and not 100% entertainment (entertainment overload!!!) buy in "categories" to spread things out. 

For my kids, this is resulting in less clutter, because things are useful, consumable, wearable, and experiential.  There are some cute little phrases running around, but here is a more extensive list that I've compiled and highlights what is important to our family--teaching skills.  

Other categories may not apply to you, your family, or your situation--like the year some friends gave me three garbage bags of nearly-new, stylish clothes.  I wouldn't need a "wear" gift because my closet was already bursting!  Pick the ones that matter to your family or your kid.  Opening 6 small gifts might be better for smaller kids, but two big ones for older kids would be more meaningful.  Do. What.Works.

So, while following #1 above, pick out a few of these categories to inspire gifts, cut clutter, and make them meaningful. Don't feel like you need to do ALL of these categories, or that all of them need to be expensive.  Some categories will overlap (my boys both need new tennis shoes, which is technically a "wear" as well.)  I KNOW that several of these will be $3 gifts that are simple, but my boys will love.  

For us, we're not a super artistic family, so "make" might be a birdhouse for our family, but a piece of art for another.  "See" might be an outing or a hike for our family, but tickets to a play for another. 

Bonus: "Hear" is an idea from a friend who wanted to do something musical for her child.  Your gifts CAN and should reflect your family passions, skills, and heritage you want to pass on to your kids!



#3: Finish all your shopping by December 1st (preferably by Thanksgiving).

This one is a life-changer for me and one I am implementing THIS YEAR!!!  It initially sounded like a silly rule just for the sake of a rule, but one that has several benefits after I thought about it further. 
  • It leaves the entire month of December free to accomplish what is important for the season-- thankfulness and time spent with family, making memories and reflecting on the season.
  • It helps you avoid the marketing and craziness of the holiday consumer culture.  I've started doing this and should be done pre-THANKSGIVING!  The shopping has not been hectic.
  • It allows you to "get in, and get out" without getting sucked in. The closer the holidays come, the more intense the commercials, sales, flyers, and ads become. It is overwhelming and very likely to entice you to buy things that no one needs under the tree!

Bottom line??

Make Christmas your own.
Set a budget and shop WITHIN that budget. 
When the money, list, or timer (December 1st) runs out, STOP and enjoy the holidays for what they are--a time for reflection, thankfulness, and family.

I hope that these three pointers will help you tame the consumerism dragon and make the holidays less about stuff and more about people.

Friday, November 6, 2015

Homesteading Heartaches

*Sigh*

At times, homesteading is ridiculously rewarding...like making a fritatta from your own eggs, bacon, chevre, and greens.

Home-raised dinner: win.

At others, it is ridiculously heartbreaking....like when you realize you have to get rid of ALL your goats.

Let me explain...

Recently, we had the opportunity to buy our little homestead a more permanent home (more on that later) where we can dig in some roots, live 100% debt free and get some real financial traction.  This little homestead would allow us to provide for basically all of our own food needs, if we work hard and are good stewards.

As with any move, decisions have to be made on what goes and what gets the heave-ho.

Given their infrastructure concerns, our animals are prime consideration....

Chickens? Easy to move....and we depend on our daily eggs. Check.

Pigs....they are giant and ready to be processed any day, regardless.  They will be making the move as bacon.

Goats......  .......  .......

And therein lies the giant question.  We had intially decided that we wanted to try to move the goats.  Get the new place to a point that we would be able to home them there while the trailer gets moved and we stay at our town-house (since it is FINALLY ready to sell after months of work, basically, but winter sucks for selling, and this is a good excuse as any to enjoy it for a few months) and let the goats clear away the brush.

However, the longer we thought about it, the more I had to face the music.  I love my goats, but as a farmer, I have to be honest.

They suck as dairy goats. 

*Ouch* Honesty reaaaaaly smarts.

And if an animal isn't productive, I have to either cull or be ok with them as a pet.  Which, for a goat, as cute and fun as they are, I'm not.

No, really....

La Manchas are supposed to give up to 2 gallons/day in a good dairy herd.  Let's say you're only going to milk once per day and you're feeding them just enough alfalfa and feed to keep their weight on them....no less than 1 gallon for any full-sized breed should be expected a day (that's 16 cups, for the mathematically challenged) 

Ladies and gentlemen, Oleffe only ever produced 8 CUPS in a 24 hour period.  Even with 100% separation of the kids for 2-3 days straight and twice-a-day milkings.  EIGHT CUPS in a 24-hour block.....not the 32 cups/day she could, not the 16 cups/day adjusted, 8 cups....if I was lucky.  Most days it was less.

Great momma? Mother Teresa would be proud.

Gentle temperment?  A lamb.

But the ONE thing that I bought a DAIRY goat for.....milk production? Miserable failure.

*Sigh*

And herein lies the great dilemma of a farmer.  What do you do with an animal that produces poorly?

Morally, I really don't want to slough my sweet girls off on some poor, unexpecting soul....that would be unkind and unethical.

So then what?  I guess it's time to cull...

Dan hasn't been nearly as involved with my goats as I have been.  He has tirelessly worked to build them a barn and put up fences and figure out electric chargers.  He has put up with my hair-brained ideas with the patience of Job and nary an "I told you so."  But emotionally, he has been as connected to these animals as he has been to his piggies....who were destined to become bacon from before they were conceived.

These animals? They were my baby goats.  I helped Oleffe birth her kids (the boys I never named, knowing their ultimate fate), I spent months out in the barn in the morning hours milking her for a total chore time of 45 minutes or more of my precious sleep, sometimes begrudgingly after a long, hard night-shift.  Hours of time spent researching, scratching my head trying to figure out WHY she wasn't producing the gallon a day I expected of her (let alone the 2 gallons a day her breed can produce). Babying her, giving her treats, brushing, grooming, hoove trimming, copper boluses, vitamin B shots, extra iron, herbal suplements, kelp meal... Expectations of having her for 10 years, give or take, making her the matriarch of the herd.

And ultimately, despite all my best efforts, her production never got any better.  A single day milking never netted me more than 5 cups of milk.

Svenne?  She never even got pregnant.....let alone give me a single drop of milk.

And Nala? My cute, spunky little girl goat? Well, after having a stellar start, she seemed to get more and more lethargic.  I checked her for parasites, which are the most common problem.  Honestly, I think that she was in-bred and had some genetic problem.  The longer she went, the more it was obvious she was "off."  After trying for weeks and making no traction, we decided that the best thing to do (since eating her seemed sketchy and she would never make it to good production nor would we want her to be bred) was to put her out of her misery.  

And thus, we have decided that it is best to cull our remaining does, along with the pre-destined wethers.

Does it totally suck?

You betcha.

Was it worth it? Yes.  We will have more goats one day and the experience was excellent. We now love goats and love how integrative they are to reclamining overgrown pastures and managing forest lots.  They LOVE osage oranges, poison ivy, chicory,  poison hemlock, locust tree, and every other noxious weed that cows will turn their noses up at.

Will it make our lives easier not having to trek out to the proerty from town every day to check on them? For sure.

Have I learned some lessons? Absolutely.

And for now, I will say my goodbyes, distance myself emotionally, recognize that if I want to be a real hobby farmer, I have to do the right thing by the breed...which is cull sub-par genetics in a manner that is respectful to the individual animal.

And be thankful that I have plenty of pork so I don't have to eat mutton until I am ready....

Man, how I wish that as a culture we weren't so removed from our food.  This would have been just part of the circle of life and a lesson I would have learned before kindergarten....instead, I'm going to go find a quart of ice cream and a box of tissues.  Good thing goat-milk ice cream is basically nonexistent.